Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Obama Vs. Strawmen: Barack Knows Some Of The Context, But ...

By Manifesto Joe

Nobody got very tough with Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker during Tuesday's questioning by senators on the Iraq disaster. That really wasn't to be expected, not even from presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. John McCain, of course, aped the banal Republican rah-rahs that were anticipated from him.

But Obama did show a shining moment of clarity during a round of questioning. He took a couple of minutes to make a flat statement: In essence, the decision to invade Iraq was a massive strategic blunder -- one that he opposed from the start. He laid out some historical context of this fiasco -- but unfortunately, not all.

Understanding that he's running for president, that's probably as candid a statement as could be expected from Obama. For pragmatic reasons, he had to stop short of certain arguments: That the Iraq war is, at its core, about oil, as the U.S. and other powers would not have worried about a local despot like Saddam Hussein had he not been sitting atop the world's third-largest reserve; that this was clearly an invasion, an act of aggression, arguably in violation of international law; and that the rest of the world has widely regarded the U.S. as a rogue superpower ever since.

Obama pointed out that the particular terrorist "threats" in Iraq exist because of the invasion, and did not exist prior to it. He said there is really no hope for stabilizing the region without the involvement of neighboring Iran, so we're going to have to talk with them sooner or later.

He acknowledged that the men he was questioning were not the ones who made the decision to invade. They are simply the ones left to "clean up the mess."

A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq seems to have been ruled out by all concerned, including Obama.

The Illinois senator seems to appreciate some of the context of this predicament, but perhaps not all.

I am just old enough to have started following public affairs as a tween/teen during the late '60s and early '70s. I, for one, do not love the smell of napalm in the morning -- it smells much like defeat, not victory. It smells like the Vietnam War, and all those familiar rationalizations for the U.S. to just stay, and stay, and stay some more, year after bloody year.

The historical context that Obama doesn't grasp, or at least feigns not to, is that there really isn't going to be a quick way to "clean up" a mess this big. Ultimately, the Iraqis will have to do that themselves, and it won't be easy. The wounds will still be there in 50 years, maybe even 100.

As Yogi Berra said, it's deja vu all over again. I vividly remember the "de-Americanization" and "Vietnamization" of the war of 40 years ago. The escalation, and how that buildup of troops was supposed to eventually pacify the country. I recall Richard Nixon on TV many nights, telling us about how we had to stick it out and "win the peace."

I remember being told how much more competent, how much less corrupt, how much more democratic the South Vietnamese puppet government was becoming. How the South Vietnamese were going to control their destiny, as soon as those communist villains were beaten back into the jungle holes where they belonged.

There are different words for all this nowadays. Instead of escalation, we have the "surge." We have "progress," "sustainable security," and the like. And of course, we have a time frame for these things that, listening to Petraeus and Crocker, seems without end.

Obama did go so far as to suggest that a timetable for withdrawal would be pressure that the current Iraqi government may need if it is ever to become truly viable. If he's thinking anything beyond that, he was careful not to let on, and I expected that.

Barack Obama was born in 1961 (and I honestly don't hold that against him). But consequently, he was a first-grader during the Tet offensive. He would have been an eighth-grader when America saw video of a helicopter being pushed off the side of an aircraft carrier headed out of a lost Vietnam. What he knows about the parallels between then and now would mostly have to come from history lessons.

I hope he was a great student of that subject, and knows more about this than he's letting on just now.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

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